O'Brien, Pack want to end 'roller coaster' trend

jgiglio@newsobserver.comOctober 16, 2012 

— If there’s one thing N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien knows, it’s his team can bounce back after a tough loss.

But life after big wins?

Prosperity has created a different set of problems for the Wolfpack, which had a week off to digest its upset of then-No. 3 Florida State and to get ready for Maryland, an old foil, on Saturday.

“We’ve handled adversity much better than we’ve handled success,” O’Brien said.

The numbers support O’Brien’s statement, which is a perfect summation of the program since the start of the 2010 season. N.C. State is10-1 after a loss, including two wins this season, since 2010, compared to a 9-9 record after a win (which does not account for the gap in between seasons). The Wolfpack has only won consecutive ACC games twice over the same time span.

O’Brien called it a “roller coaster” before the season and he reiterated Monday he wants to get off the ride. With the 17-16 win over then-No. 3 Florida State in the rearview mirror, typically there’s only been one way N.C. State will go.

You mix in the recent history against Maryland and the Wolfpack’s woes on the road in the Atlantic Division and a repeat of recent history is in play. For their part, the Wolfpack players are cognizant of all the factors in Saturday’s game.

“This is going to tell us where we want to go, whether we want to just stay complacent with a Florida State win – and that be our season – or whether we want to go further in the season,” junior receiver Quintin Payton said.

For all of its problems in a 44-37 loss at Miami on Sept. 29, N.C. State finds itself in control of the Atlantic Division after beating Florida State. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher erroneously said after his team’s loss in Raleigh on Oct. 6 that FSU still controlled its own destiny in the ACC. The Noles don’t, but N.C. State and Maryland – at 2-0, the only ACC team unbeaten in conference play – do.

The Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1 ACC) will have to do two things it has been unable to do since 2005 – win a road game in the division, a streak which has reached 16 games, including all 13 in O’Brien’s tenure, and win consecutive games against the Terrapins.

Maryland has vexed the Wolfpack since 2000, winning eight of 12 in the series and five of six at Byrd Stadium. The Terps beat N.C. State in the regular-season finale in 2007 to keep the Wolfpack out of a bowl game and again in 2010 to keep the Pack out of the ACC title game.

Then there was last year’s ACC finale, a wild 56-41 Wolfpack win in Raleigh. The Terps led 41-14 in the third quarter before the Pack made the biggest comeback in school history.

“We’ve got to play like we did in the second half of the Maryland game and I think we’ll be fine,” senior defensive end Brian Slay said.

Which N.C. State team will show up Saturday in College Park is anyone’s guess. N.C. State beat a ranked Florida State team in 2010 and lost the next week to Clemson. Last year, the Wolfpack beat then-No. 7 Clemson and then followed it up with the epic comeback over the Terps.

Maryland, for all of its problems during a 2-10 season in 2011, has been more consistent this season. The Terps (4-2) have moved into bowl contention, and first place in the Atlantic Division, with one of the few strong defenses in the ACC.

The Terps, led by linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, rank ninth in the country in total defense (278.6 yards per game) and ninth in rushing defense (95.5 yards per game).

Between seniors Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, Maryland has two of the best defensive linemen in the ACC, and the Terps rank 14th nationally in sacks with 3.0 per game.

O’Brien has tried to explain all of this to his players but will the message sink in? “We’re going to find out,” O’Brien said.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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